What's Stimulating You?

There's always a danger in ministry, and in life in general, to become too comfortable with one's spot; to never be challenged to grow or to try new ideas. I'm not talking about the usual chestnut of churches that refuse to try new things, I mean people in ministry who never feel bothered to try new things. A while back I was talking to a friend who at the time was going through pre-marital counseling in a group setting, and there was a pastor in the room who kept interrupting the presentation to give long-rehearsed "wisdom" about aspects of marriage. To my friend, this pastor seemed less engaged in the material and more content to say the same things he'd perhaps been saying for 20-30 years. 

What seemed to strike my friend most about this was how it seemed like this pastor wasn't even trying any more. He'd found his comfortable spot in this area of ministry, and was going through the motions, perhaps out of obligation or fatigue. But it certainly wasn't out of a place of creative stimulation or engagement.

Ministerial entropy is a danger all pastors face. It's part of the reason we're encouraged to take continuing education time and pursue hobbies: the former continually develops ministry skills or introduces new ideas long after we leave seminary, and the latter keeps us stimulated by things other than church work. These are really two sides to the same coin: stimulation inside and outside the church is important for pastors to keep growing professionally and personally.

For quite a while, I suppose my two primary sources of stimulation in ministry were the emerging church and this blog. There were a few years where I gobbled up everything that I could get my hands on from what I saw as a refreshing new movement within Christianity and tried to figure out how it might apply in my own church context. I won some and lost some along the way, but the point is that it challenged me to grow as a pastor and see the church in new and different ways. I think I have more to write about where I am with the emerging church nowadays, but that'll be for another time.

And then there was this blog. Obviously I still write here, but it's different now. For years, writing here gave me that creative outlet apart from church work that I needed. This blog inspired me to develop as a writer, which eventually circled back around and influenced my work as a pastor as I'd push myself to write prayers and consider new ways to develop sermons.

Nowadays, my work with the Ignatian Spirituality Institute is my big continuing education pursuit. It's scratching an academic itch that I started having a few years ago, but it's also influencing how I think about ministry and spiritual development. And my big creative outlet at the moment is music. It always has been, but ever since Lent something has changed for me, and I've been more inspired as a musician than I have in years to develop songs, to practice and to play.

If it weren't for seeking these sources of stimulation, I'm not sure how well I could develop as a pastor. I'd be in danger of my own entropy; and of being more like that pastor mentioned above, going through the motions, never being challenged.

So. What's stimulating you?

Small Sips Keeps It Brief

Yep. Jamie has a post up about multi-tasking. Well, it's less about multi-tasking and more about enjoying life:
Whatever the opposite of a multi-tasker is? I'm that. I'm a barely-do-a-single-thing-at-once-er. If have tons of crap to get done, I have to make a list on a piece of paper, and then I have to carry that piece of paper around with me, checking things off as I go. Sometimes I have to refer to the list when, in the middle of a task, I have completely forgotten what I'm doing and find myself standing in my bedroom, or the kitchen, or Target, or a parking garage in midtown with my face all scrunched up, like, “Wait. What was I doing?”  
It's kind of a problem.  
The thing is? Life doesn't give a fat turd about my to-do list. It just piles stuff on, all willy-nilly, without an ounce of consideration for my lack of capacity to get stuff done. Life is so rude. Since I know this about life, you'd think I could plan for it by putting things like “dead car battery” and “broken incisor” and “unexpected guests” on the list. You'd think I would just build in time for “stitches”and “stepping in dog poop”, but I don't. Then, when things start to pile up, I feel like I'm in the drivers seat of El Chupacabra's patrol car, racing too fast, typing a blog post, yelling at my kids, and not even remotely enjoying the taco. Because, unlike my multi-tasking hulk of a husband, I don't feel like I'm in control when there's so much going on. In fact, the complete opposite is true; I feel like I'm a split second away from crashing and burning.
The old saying, "life is what happens when you're making other plans" applies here. Jamie's just such a good writer, and this is a good post on remembering to roll a little more when you need to, and enjoy the little things. I know that I'm not offering any insightful additions to this. It's just a good reminder, okay? Go read it.

Mind: blown. Someone on MGoBlog posted a picture from a recent Jacksonville Jaguars practice where former Michigan QB Chad Henne is handing off to former Michigan QB Denard Robinson:

It's not every day you see Michigan's all-time leader in QB passing handing off to Michigan's all-time leader in QB rushing. Awesome.

Into the future! The RevGalBlogPals are taking another new step in that group's development:
Over the past several months the board has been praying and discerning the best way forward as this ministry continues to grow. We long to offer a wide range of opportunities, resources, and connections, and have been constrained by time and other commitments. Therefore it is with great excitement that we share with you a vision of a way forward! 
The board has discerned a need for a Director of RevGalBlogPals. This position is designed to support the ministry our organization offers now, to enhance our community through better online interaction and through increased face-to-face opportunities, and to create the future of this ministry through financial and social development. 
The Director will be tasked with revamping our web presence, facilitating and moderating various new channels of community-building, study, and communication, and creating, organizing, and hosting multiple regional events. The board also anticipates that the Director will attend some denominational or other gatherings and reach out to women clergy and their supporters, offering fellowship and extending the reach of the ministry of RevGalBlogPals. 
The board is grateful that Martha Spong (often known as RevSongbird), who has long RevGal history and an even longer vision, will be the first Director of RevGalBlogPals. Her gifts and skills of creativity, networking, technology, and encouraging others will serve her well in this position. Martha has stepped down from the board in order to serve in this capacity, and we look forward to walking into the future of the RGBP community with her.
I've been a Pal of this group almost since its inception, and have been glad to read some of them (including Martha) since that time. So I offer my congratulations and prayers to them on this next big step.

Misc. Jan on who casts a vision in a congregation. Jamie writes more about sex. Gordon Atkinson has a visit from an old familiar friend.

Let's Point and Laugh at Father's Day

The other day, a well-known author on church issues posted this on their Facebook page:
Mother's Day was founded as a progressive holiday for peace. Father's Day was founded as a "complement" to Mother's Day largely with the help of the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers. Americans embraced the former, but resisted the latter as too commercial.
The "likes" and snarky comments about the day followed from there, as this little history lesson seemed to be meant and received as a commentary on the noble origins of Mother's Day contrasted with the not-so-noble origins of its "complement." There were jokes about ties and suits, and at least one swipe at men who might feel oppressed by Father's Day not being as big a celebration.

I spoke my peace and then decided to recuse myself from responding further, as internet arguments, especially on Facebook, are stupid. But I still decided to write a blog post about it, because I can't help myself.

So first, obviously, a holiday's origins determine its eternal worth. I mean, just ask all the people who say "you know it started as a pagan day, right?" every Christmas and Easter. Surely there can't be any deeper truth to these days that we can find if we move beyond the superficial aspects of the day, and surely holidays are incapable of evolving. How they started is how they should always be recognized!

The faulty logic in that is hopefully apparent right off the bat, as shown in the above equally snarky comment. But beyond that, let's examine the origins of Father's Day a little more closely:
Father's Day was founded in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, who was born in Arkansas. Its first celebration was in the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children there. After hearing a sermon about Jarvis' Mother's Day in 1909, she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday honoring them. Although she initially suggested June 5, her father's birthday, the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.  
It did not have much success initially. In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying in the Art Institute of Chicago, and it faded into relative obscurity, even in Spokane. In the 1930s Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional present to fathers. Since 1938 she had the help of the Father's Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion. Americans resisted the holiday during a few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother's Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded. By the mid 1980s the Father's Council wrote that "(...) [Father's Day] has become a 'Second Christmas' for all the men's gift-oriented industries."
So yeah, commercialism has played a big role in Father's Day over the years...just like every other holiday ever. But before that, Sonora Dodd earnestly wanted to celebrate fatherhood, inspired by her own father raising six children by himself. It's no peace demonstration or anything, but it sounds like an okay reason to me.

Finally, Father's Day is the celebration of a role. As it turns out, yes, this role tends to be one that males occupy. I'm not the type to scream "reverse discrimination" because I know better, but why can't we just let fathers--who, yes, again, happen to be male--enjoy a day meant for them without belitting it while issuing a pre-emptive "You can't complain about what we're pointing out because men have historically oppressed others?"

But really, this comes down to personal emotion. I'm proud to be a father. It's one of the big things that, at the end of my life, I hope to look back on and say that I got right. I don't ask for much on the third Sunday of June. First off, I'm a pastor, so there's only so much that can be done to celebrate a Sunday holiday in my household. I'm cool with just a day without many other interruptions with my family. And so to see someone suggest that Father's Day is silly because 1) It wasn't as popular when it started, 2) It wasn't started with intentions as wonderful as Mother's Day, 3) You're a man, so suck it up, gets under my skin because I take my role seriously and appreciate that there's a day set aside to recognize the importance of this role in a child's life.

Maybe I'm taking a Facebook status way too personally. That could be it, too.

But I plan on enjoying my weekend, particularly Sunday, even if some apparently think doing so is silly.

Pop Stories: Arrested Development Season 4

"Now the story of a wealthy family whose future was abruptly cancelled, and the one son who had no choice but to keep himself together."

I sometimes wonder what would happen if Joss Whedon would ever be given the opportunity to write new episodes of Firefly for TV. Part of me, of course, would be absolutely thrilled: a clever, criminally under-appreciated, creative space western with snappy dialogue and incredible adventures? Who wouldn't want that to finally return and experience redemption after years of fans pining for such a thing? On the one hand, people would finally have a long-harbored craving satisfied; a resolution to a show ended too soon.

But part of me would also have hesitations about such news. First off, the actors are older and many have understandably moved on to other things. Would they feel the same passion and dedication for the project? On top of that, two of the main characters are now dead thanks to the movie Serenity, which really was meant to be the resolution for grieving fans. And what stories would they tell? The aforementioned movie crammed a good 3-4 seasons worth of material into those two hours; what's left? For all of those reasons and more, I'd seriously wonder whether I should just be more happy with what we have, rather than hope for something that could very well just not be as good.

I admit that part of me had the same hesitation when I first heard that they'd finally been given the all-clear to produce a new season (and possibly a movie) of Arrested Development, another criminally under-appreciated show that was cancelled far too soon. They'd have the entire cast back, albeit a few years older, but how would they write the show after so many years being away from the material? Would it feature the same catchphrases, the same self-referential humor, the same deadpan and sharp delivery by the actors, or would it be a shadow of its former brilliance; a chance to make something just because there was the opportunity to make it?

Coffeewife and I watched probably the first 4-5 episodes the day it appeared on Netflix, and finished the season a little at a time the rest of that week. And I am happy to share that the show hasn't lost a step. Like, at all.

The actors seem to be into the material as much as they ever were. The only two who even look any older are Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat, but that's to be expected from child actors, and the writing compensates for it in appropriate and humorous ways. The stories are just as interconnected and self-referential as they ever were and include many of the side characters from the original series as well. And some of the running gags from the previous incarnation are incorporated while avoiding merely filling an expectation that they be there.

In other words, these new episodes are just as good, just as clever, just as sharp as the original.

After the last episode, I simply looked at Coffeewife and said, "I want more." But thankfully, it wasn't said out of a desire that something had been cut short. Instead, it was simply out of appreciation that the creative energy that had fueled the show before was still very much there; still had more stories to tell without feeling tired. The latest news is that a movie is being planned. Unlike Serenity, it feels less like a thank-you to the truest of fans and more of a true completion of something that was finally given an opportunity to end on its own terms.

Pop Stories: Dave Matthews Band

I'm testing out a new feature that is intended to be the Pop Culture Roundup's replacement.

"What is this? You're wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Don't be that guy." - Jeremy Piven, PCU

When I moved onto campus my freshman year at Heidelberg, I only brought a handful of CDs with me. I figured that, rather than bring all that I had, I'd pick out a dozen or so for which I had a special affinity; a select few that would help me navigate this new phase of my life. As it happened, two of those albums were Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash by Dave Matthews Band. It was 1997.

I couldn't really tell you what inspired me to include those albums along with what no doubt was mostly a selection of Christian rock that reflected the mini-boom it was enjoying in those years. dc Talk and Jars of Clay, among others, were just hitting their stride and I was playing them non-stop in accordance with my newfound station in life, but I had also apparently decided that there was something about DMB--complete with its violin and saxophone augmentations, devoid of any lead electric guitar to speak of--that was compelling enough to make this trip.

Two summers later, I was invited down to Cincinnati by my new girlfriend--she who would eventually become Coffeewife--to take in my first show. Before These Crowded Streets had come out by then, and the live experience put me over the edge. Whatever it was that inspired me to bring those two CDs to college to begin with would now cause me to decide that these would basically be attached to my hip in my Sony Discman. Remember those?

The live experience is the hallmark of DMB fandom. It's where they transform their songs from a few minutes to eight or ten, featuring an interaction among the various instruments that to me is unparalleled. These seven musicians know the songs, know their instruments, know each other so well that they just let the music lead them wherever it means for them to go. This is the kind of thing that separates a real band from a canned studio creation.

To my shame, I've only been to six DMB live shows. It would be six years after that first show in '99 before I'd see them again in 2005. Coffeewife and I have tried to make it an annual thing since moving back to Ohio, with hiccups along the way. But this is now one of our annual traditions: when the new tour dates come out, we check to see if we can go, and we plan accordingly. And so we were at Blossom Music Center on June 1st to see our favorite band once again.

There was something different about this most recent show for me. The music itself was awesome as always. I hadn't heard them play "Crush" since '08, so that was a personal thrill. But it was something else.

I've always been a follower of the sentiment expressed above in the PCU quote: don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. It's little more than a "too cool for the room" idea, but I've always liked it. Plenty of people do it, and we saw a variety of DMB shirts that night. We each get a new one every time we go. They're mementos of a moment in time: I still have my 1999 tour shirt somewhere, and it's my understanding of the complicated rules of concert apparel that wearing it would have commanded respect rather than ridicule among whoever keeps track of dumb stuff like that.

No, as I observed those who deigned to violate the largely unspoken rule given voice by a little-known cult classic, I felt an urge for the first time to throw on my newly purchased Carter Beauford jersey. It was less out of a felt need to conform and more out of a desire to celebrate this community I'd long been a part of, this fanbase that still trades recordings of live shows, that has come to recognize some of the band's tendencies during extended jams, this group that celebrates the original "big three" albums that made them fans to begin with and shares a common empathy in the hopefulness and frustration that subsequent albums have brought. I wanted to celebrate the culture as much as the band, and that almost inspired me to ignore the rule I'd long observed.

Almost. I'll probably wear it sometime this week instead. One has to stick to one's principles, you know.